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Tuesday, 10 August 1926

Senator GRANT (New South Wales) . - The continuous repetition of any statement by a large number of people, and, perhaps, more especially by members of Parliament, not infrequently comes to be regarded as an established truth. In the debate on this bill we have been told over and over again that good roads are highly desirable, the suggestion, of course, being that a considerable number of people hold the opposite opinion. I have never heard any one condemn good roads. On the contrary, every one is in favour of good roads. This, however, does not necessarily mean that they approve of any scheme that may be submitted to ensure the construction and maintenance of roads. Mostpeople are in favour of a good system of universal education, but there is a wide difference of opinion as to the details of the curriculum. So it is with regard to many other subjects. Fortunately, honorable senators have not been asked to express an opinion as to the best methods of road-making. The Ministry is asking the Senate to agree to vote a large sum of money annually as a subsidy to the States to enable them to launch out on a comprehensive roadmaking policy. This function, I submit, was never contemplated by the framers of the Constitution. It was never anticipated that the revenues of the Commonwealth would be expended in the making of roads. I can quite understand the need for expending Commonwealth money on roads purely for defence purposes, but the granting of a Commonwealth subsidy to the States for the making of roads that should be constructed by the States ought not to be countenanced. The bill is so drafted that no State can very well afford to stand out, because the money will be raised from the people of all the States, and handed over to the latter to be used in the manner indicated. For this reason I believe that ultimately all the States will be obliged to accept the agreement. One would think that the Commonwealth was making a present to the States of the money which it is proposed annually to vote in continuance of this policy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The amount to be provided will be raised by taxation. It would be better if the Commonwealth Government attended to its own business, and "allowed this work of road-making to be carried out by the States. There are many directions in which the Commonwealth could more advantageously expend the money proposed to be raised under this scheme than by handing it back to the States for road construction. It would be better still if, instead of raising more money by taxation, the Commonwealth reduced taxation by the amount proposed to be expended on these proposals. The Government has no moral right to collect more money than it requires. From time immemorial roadmaking has been regarded as tb.p function solely of local-governing bodies. District roads boards, with power of taxation, have been appointed to carry out the construction of lengthy highways throughout the States, and if further funds have been required the resources of the State have been drawn upon. This bill is a continuation of a policy launched by the Commonwealth Government some time ago to infere with work which .properly should be carried out by the States. Since the advent of the motor, roads are now used by people who formerly hardly ever saw them, and, of course, better roads are desirable. But the main question is: Who should pay for them? The bill is discreetly silent upon that point. I should be out of order if I attempted to discuss the means by which the Government proposes to raise the revenue to meet this expenditure, but I should like to point out that one of the immediate results of the making of good roads will be an increase in the value of all lands adjoining or in the vicinity of those roads.

Senator Crawford - Will not that be a very desirable result?

Senator McHugh - Who gets the benefit from good roads?

Senator Crawford - The community.

Senator GRANT - It is absurd to say that the community reaps the benefit from . the construction of good roads. Senator Pearce, who owns a large area of land with a big frontage to Port Phillip. Bay, would find the value of his property increased by £5 to £10 a foot if the Government decided to make the road from Melbourne to Sorrento as good as the St. Kilda road is.

Senator McHugh - The honorable senator does not suggest that the Government will do that?

Senator GRANT - It would not be a bad idea, because, with the rapid increase in the population of Melbourne, especially in the direction of Sorrento, it will be necessary before long x> im prove the road along the foreshore, and I think I have shown that at least one land-owner would reap a very substantial benefit if that were done. Consequently, instead of the Commonwealth revenue being drawn upon to meet expenditure on these proposed new works, men like Senator Pearce and others who own land that might be benefited by good roads, should be called upon to make substantial contributions. But the bill does not propose to do that. It contains no provision to raise money in that way.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon J Newlands - That being so, the honorable gentleman will not be in order in pursuing that line of argument.

Senator GRANT - I agree with you, Mr. President, and I am glad that I was allowed to say as much as I have. I may have an opportunity later this evening, or perhaps early to-morrow morning, to discuss that matter when another bill is before this Chamber. In the meantime, I content myself with stating that the Government proposes to levy heavy taxation upon certain people for the purpose of collecting a large sum of money, which it intends to hand over to the States. Although it might be heresy on my part, and not in accordance with my official view, it is my personal view that the proper authority to expend money is the authority that raises it. I object to the States receiving road grants from the Commonwealth, since taxation for that purpose should be levied by the States themselves. I differ from Senator Barwell as to the constitutionality of the proposal. It seems to me that the Commonwealth is entitled, if it so desires, to hand surplus revenue back to the States for road construction or any other purpose, because the actual work is to be done by the States. If, however, the Commonwealth has more revenue than it knows what to do with, i*s proper course is to reduce taxation. The bill should be opposed at every stage, and,, if possible, defeated.

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